In a state like Kentucky, where there are more barrels of bourbon than people, it’s practically a crime to leave without a taste of the good stuff. The mixologists and culinary minds of Louisville are never shy when it comes to celebrating the libation in all its glory. However, not all bourbon bars are alike, and each offers a different experience suitable for drinkers of different tastes.
Whether you’re a bourbon newbie or a connoisseur, a fan of drinking outdoors whilst enjoying a lazy Kentucky summer day or a history buff hoping to rub elbows with the past at bars that have hosted famous faces the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, there’s something at one of the many bourbon bars in Louisville for you.
8Up Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen
This bar offers a modern vibe one would expect in a much larger metropolis than Louisville. The rooftop patio is what really makes the space, though, with its elongated fire pit surrounded by spacious seating and views of the city and the Ohio River. The bourbon cocktails are updated classics, but not overcome with such a contrived array of ingredients that you can’t enjoy the bourbon itself. The 8Up Peach Julep is a refreshing mix of Maker’s 46 bourbon, honey syrup and fresh lime juice. However, sometimes it doesn’t get any better than a bourbon and Coke, which 8Up does well, with Old Forester Signature bourbon, a Mexican soda reduction and vanilla bitters.
350 West Chestnut Street
Down One Bourbon Bar & Restaurant
Located on Louisville’s Whiskey Row and a part of the Urban Bourbon Trail, Down One Bourbon Bar & Restaurant offers 170 bottles of bourbon along with its nationally recognized dining. With a speakeasy theme (including a “secret” phone booth room housing rare bourbons) and a magnolia-shaded patio, the bar is like a pleasant step into the past. Their signature 7 Across the Board cocktail draws out the sweet and smoky flavors of a good bourbon — in this case, Angel’s Envy — complemented by blackberry puree and a raspberry-sage simple syrup. Of course, no one would complain if you mixed a little bourbon with your Champagne, right? The Celebration Punch does just that, along with added notes of peach, vanilla and ginger.
321 Main Street
Proof on Main
For drinks in a totally eclectic (read: cool) setting, stop at Proof on Main. While the minimalist wooden and leather seating and white circular tabletops seem innocent enough, the rest of the decor pushes this place over the top. The mismatched chandeliers, floral wallpaper, hot pink picture frames and slightly (or not so slightly) suggestive photos are not for the prude. The cocktail menu changes with the season, but you’re bound to find a concoction that will surprise and delight your taste buds with unique flavors you just won’t find anywhere else in the city. There’s the On Raglan Road, which boasts Woodford Reserve, espresso-infused génépy des alpes, Sibona amaro, maple syrup and Angostura bitters. Then, there’s the Smoke Rings, with Buffalo Trace, curaçao, Ramazzotti amaro, lapsang souchang tea and absinthe. Not feeling the bourbon? You can always go with a bottle of fizzy Kentucky kombucha.
702 West Main Street
The Old Seelbach Bar
The Seelbach itself is a gorgeous, historic property, with origins stretching back to the mid-1800s. Now a Hilton hotel, it still retains much of the glitz and glamor from its heyday during Prohibition. In fact, the hotel—what is now the Old Seelbach Bar—was a favored watering hole for F. Scott Fitzgerald. It was there the prolific writer met a Cincinnati mobster, George Remus, who is said to be the inspiration for Jay Gatsby. Another famous guest? Al Capone, who frequently dined in The Oakroom. A mirror he had hung in the room is still there today. For a decadently sweet bourbon cocktail, try the signature Bourbon Ball, which combines Woodford Reserve with Godiva white chocolate, Buffalo Trace bourbon cream and cherries.
500 S. 4th Street
Lola at Butchertown Grocery
With a warm, inviting atmosphere seemingly designed for coziness, Butchertown Grocery is housed in an unassuming 19th century brick building. Once upon a time, the restaurant and bar was a grocery store, hence the name. Now, it’s winning awards and making its own name on the country’s Southern dining scene. The Lola Late Night cocktail menu is filled with fun names and drinks that promise a good time. The Happiness Does Not Wait, for example, is made with Maker’s Mark, Maurine Quina, lemon, honey, framboise and absinthe. Then there’s the Lady Midnight, with Old Forester Signature, sherry, Becherovka and mole bitters. If you so choose, you can even take a shot through a (highly tempting) bone marrow luge.
1076 E. Washington Street
A more intimate and relaxed, but still upscale experience is found at Bourbon Raw, where the 57-foot marble bar is home to 85 Kentucky bourbons. Guests can explore the range of bourbons with one of their extremely affordable flights. Each follows a particular theme and includes four tastes of local favorites. Beyond the bourbon, the food here is equally impressive, with Southern classics, like fried chicken and shrimp and grits, and a raw bar.
446 S. Fourth Street
Charr’d Bourbon Kitchen & Lounge
The award-winning Charr’d Bourbon Kitchen & Lounge is helmed by Laurent Géroli, a chef with an impressive resume and a long history in Louisville hospitality. The eatery is praised by the likes of The Bourbon Review and the American Bourbon Association. You won’t want to miss the drinks, of course, but you also won’t want to miss dinner, either, with the kitchen’s bourbon-themed menu filled with not just Southern favorites, but Kentucky favorites, like burgoo—a spicy Southern stew—and the classic hot brown— an open-faced turkey sandwich smothered in a delectable Mornay sauce, often garnished with bacon and tomato slices.
1903 Embassy Square Boulevard